Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Seamus Heaney: world pays tribute to poet whose words helped bridge divide

Seamus Heaney, pictured in 1995
Seamus Heaney, pictured in 1995

He came from a small village in south Derry – but he became a giant around the world.

Presidents, prime ministers, literary figures and people from across Northern Ireland have paid tribute to Seamus Heaney, who has died at the age of 74.

Ireland's most famous poet since WB Yeats, Heaney's writing crossed sectarian divides and oceans.

His poems were recited across Ireland, Europe, America and further afield – and studied by thousands of school children for decades.

Heaney's delicate, grounded poetry, which was rooted in the land and surroundings of his childhood home of Bellaghy, won the affection of people across Ireland, the expat community and the wider world.

The late poet and father-of-three died in hospital in Dublin yesterday morning.

It is understood that he was admitted to Blackrock Clinic in Dublin following a fall last week, where medics discovered a heart condition.

The grandfather-of-three is understood to have been waiting for surgery, which may have been scheduled for yesterday, when he sadly passed away before the procedure.

His funeral will be held at Scared Heart Church in Donnybrook, Dublin, at 11.30am on Monday.

He will be laid to rest near his late parents, in the cemetery of St Mary's Church in his native Bellaghy.

Seamus Heaney left his rural life behind at the age of 12, boarding in Derry's St Columb's College after winning a scholarship.

But he played out his rural childhood through poetry throughout much of his adult life.

At Queen's University, where he studied English literature, Heaney joined a generation of 'Northern poets', including Michael Longley and Derek Mahon.

Video: Seamus Heaney's 'Digging'

 

He went on to teach at Bearnageeha Secondary School in north Belfast and St Mary's University College, and it was during this time that he decided to dedicate his life to poetry.

He travelled across Northern Ireland with singer David Hammond as part of Northern Ireland's Arts Council poetry drive, Poems and Pints, which combined poetry and music. The pair were also the founding members of Field Day theatre company.

It was in Dublin where Heaney lived most of his adult life, where he moved with his wife Marie in 1972, after 15 years in Belfast. But he remained anchored to his roots north of the border.

His first major collection, Death Of A Naturalist, was published in 1966.

North, reflecting the the horror of the Troubles, followed in 1975.

His poetry took in every spectrum of life.

"The end of art is peace," he wrote in The Harvest Bow, remembering his late father.

"He was a very down-to-earth man. He wore his fame lightly," Bishop Edward Daly, who knew the late poet, said.

One of his last public performances was at the sold-out night, The Poet And The Piper, with leading uilleann piper Liam Og O'Flynn, on August 14.

The event, in his home county of Derry, was a highlight of Derry's City of Culture year, which Heaney was instrumental in securing for the city through an appearance in a promotional video.

A book of condolences in the city's Guildhall opened yesterday, to be followed by a book at Belfast's City Hall on Monday.

The poet and playwright was due to appear at Queen's University on Tuesday for the unveiling of what would be the final portrait of him.

He was also due to open an exhibition at Belfast's Linenhall Library.

"He was the most famous living Irish poet," Dick McGowan, an old friend of Heaney's who studied alongside him at St Columb's College and Queen's University, said yesterday.

"I saw Seamus at a funeral of a contemporary of ours last year. Little did I think that that would be one of the last times.

"He was warm-hearted, humorous and very good company – a relaxed man."

Among a series of international tributes, US vice president Joe Biden described Heaney as one of the finest Irish poets to ever live.

"Heaney taught us that 'once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme'.

"We have been lucky, in our lifetimes, to see that tidal wave of justice rise, and to find our hopes reflected in historic moments of opportunity.

"But most of all, we were lucky to have a poet with the grace of Seamus Heaney, whose simple, honest wisdom could help us better understand ourselves and the world we inhabit."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (left) spoke of his deep shock and sadness "to hear that Seamus Heaney, Derry man, poet and Nobel Laureate has died".

Former US President Bill Clinton described him as "a good and true friend. We loved him and we will miss him," he said.

Video: Nobel lecture by Seamus Heaney

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